I’m not a philosopher. (It would be tough to call anyone who often quotes Rocky Balboa as someone who philosophizes…). Still, I do try to share some deep thoughts on these pages. As I have aged, and collected a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, I have been drawn to some great thinkers. For example, I have grown very fond of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I recently purchased a text (“Self-Reliance and Other Essays”) penned by Emerson that I greatly look forward to reading.
Confucius is one of the great minds of history. His philosophies, written 2600 years ago still resonate today. I figured that I’d take some time to examine just a few of the many statements left to us from Confucius to see how they relate to our lives as educators and teachers of children. We’ll begin each section with a quote from Confucius and follow that up with my own thoughts and reflections.
“Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated.”
We will start out with a statement that shatters a lot of what we like to note about “the world today” and how challenging it is. Most people (I think it’s really all of us) like to state that life today is hard – and that it’s harder than ever. Confucius was born in 551 BC. People back then were saying that life…was hard. You know why? Because it was. It was hard in 551 BC. It was hard in AD 135. Life was hard in 1276 and in 1845. Life was hard in 1935. I tend to think that life today is not harder than at any other time in history, we just don’t know the other times – because we don’t live in them. I don’t think there was ever a period of time when people just sat around and said, “You know, life is really easy. I have no troubles and no worries.”
Life today is just different. It’s not harder. Yet, like people from every generation, we often do make it more complicated. You see, part of the human condition, often times, is to look at the struggles we go through rather than to find the good. When we do this, we end of making life more complicated.
I think this is also true of teaching. We often make the task harder than it is. Good teachers know how to connect with kids. Good teachers know what works. It is not complicated: Have energy and passion, be engaging, develop great plans, smile, respect kids… When teaching becomes hard it’s often because we are making it unnecessarily hard.
There are times when teachers are provided with resources that are designed to try to make things easier – and there are times when these suggestions, guides, or best practices can be helpful. But often, they just make the process more complicated. Some best practices aren’t the best and really are just practices. And suggestions are great, and can be wonderful, but too much information, can be…too much.
Many years ago, the great Yogi Berra was in a batting slump. He listened to all the suggestions offered to him from all the experts on how to regain his hitting stroke. He tried a number of different approaches. None of it worked. Yogi finally commented, “I can’t think and hit at the same time.” The experts complicated the formula. Once he stopped thinking, Yogi started hitting.
When we consider the challenges we face on a day-to-day basis, I would assume that many come from barriers that we erect ourselves. Most of life, most of the time, is simple: Work hard, be kind. Give. Laugh. Share. Love. Follow the golden rule and the platinum rule. It is a simple formula. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way.
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
When we uncomplicate our lives, when we simplify, we often find that we have more time. More time allows us to look more at the world around us. When we look at the world with open and relaxed eyes, we can see beautiful things that we never noticed before.
Confucius was right. Given enough time, we can find beauty almost everywhere. But it’s not just everything that has beauty, as teachers we must also remember that everybody has beauty, but not everyone sees it.
To start, we often don’t see the beauty in ourselves. When we are caught up in making life complicated, we often fail to recognize and appreciate all of the things we do to make the world a better place for ourselves and others. For one, we teach. We spread knowledge and skills. We foster the love of learning. And we demonstrate the ideals of unconditional love. Any of those things alone make us beautiful. This, too, is simple – whenever you bring a smile, joy, or comfort to another person, you are acting in a beautiful manner.
And, while we often fail to see the beauty in ourselves, there are times when we neglect to see the beauty in our students. This is especially true of the most troubled student – or the one most challenging to the teacher. The beauty of the child is lost in missing assignments or poor behavior.
The word “ugly” has often been used to describe rude behavior. The word fits. Inappropriate behavior is ugly, but note, when we focus on those ugly features, we prevent ourselves from seeing the beauty in others. Along those same lines, when we act that way, we don’t allow others to see our own beauty.
The most special teachers are the ones that find the beauty in every child. These teachers create an environment where children can self-actualize because they are supported and cared for. Sometimes children have to be taught how to love and respect themselves. We can help do this by just taking the time to see the beauty in each and every person.
“The more man meditates on good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large.”
When we seek to find the good in others, especially children, we make their world a better place. We all need affirmation. We all need love. When we give love, we make other people’s worlds a little brighter and a little better. When we give love, we often receive it right back.
When we focus on the good things, the world around us looks better. When our world is brighter, we often share that positivity with others. As such, our happiness and kindness often make other people’s lives better.
In every situation we have a choice. We can choose to see the bad or choose to find the good. We can identify the things that will upset us or we can search to find the things that will uplift us.
“Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
If we look at our jobs from its negative aspects, we will find that we are worn down. When we focus on mandates, requirements, paperwork, salaries, benefits, and the rest, our jobs as teachers becomes work. Those are the things that make a job a job. They wear us down; they wipe us out. People do not get enthused about completing the latest report. There are aspects of every job that we don’t love. When those become our focus, we begin being workers. Yet, when we focus our energies on the great parts of our job – and there are so many and there is so much to cherish –it’s not work. When we spend our energies being creative, developing great lessons, making time for children, and giving of ourselves, it’s not work. It’s a joy. It’s joyful because that work is meaningful.
Believe it or not, being a principal is not all sunshine and rainbows. Like any job, it can have many frustrations. I try to keep a lot of that to myself. I find that on the days when I focus on the negative aspects of my work, I’m more tired, less happy, and derive less satisfaction from my job. On those days I am “working.” It is work. But, here’s the beautiful thing. I can honestly say that I rarely have to “go to work.” Instead, I am fortunate, I go to a school that I love. I interact with children who, by and large, only know about being happy and joyful and full of positive energy. Kids are good at sharing love. The teachers are also positive professionals and the parental community supports them in their outstanding efforts. Confucius is right, on the days I focus on all that is good, I don’t work. All the energies I give are returned back to me in so many ways. One can never put a value on such things as smiles, appreciation, love, and respect.
Yes, even the nights out – and they are many – aren’t always work. When one knows that he is bringing joy and happiness to others; he’s not working. Bringing joy and sharing happiness is not a chore. It’s what we’re there for. That’s the joy in what we do.
Confucius was a very smart man – one of the smartest in history. His philosophies resonate, even today, because he understood human nature. He knew, and he still teaches us, that our lives can be happy. He knew, and he still teaches us, that there is good everywhere.
We just have to look for it.
We just have to notice.
In the end, it’s not complicated. In fact, it’s all too simple:
Look for the good – and when you find it, share it, and give it away. It’ll come right back.
And we will all be the better for it.
(COMING SOON?– I just might have to write a similar passage highlighting some of the most profound things that Rocky said. There’s more there than one might think.)